AI

The AI That Has Nothing to Learn From Humans (theatlantic.com) 85

An anonymous reader shares a report: Now that AlphaGo's arguably got nothing left to learn from humans -- now that its continued progress takes the form of endless training games against itself -- what do its tactics look like, in the eyes of experienced human players? We might have some early glimpses into an answer. AlphaGo Zero's latest games haven't been disclosed yet. But several months ago, the company publicly released 55 games that an older version of AlphaGo played against itself. (Note that this is the incarnation of AlphaGo that had already made quick work of the world's champions.) DeepMind called its offering a "special gift to fans of Go around the world." Since May, experts have been painstakingly analyzing the 55 machine-versus-machine games. And their descriptions of AlphaGo's moves often seem to keep circling back to the same several words: Amazing. Strange. Alien. "They're how I imagine games from far in the future," Shi Yue, a top Go player from China, has told the press. A Go enthusiast named Jonathan Hop who's been reviewing the games on YouTube calls the AlphaGo-versus-AlphaGo face-offs "Go from an alternate dimension." From all accounts, one gets the sense that an alien civilization has dropped a cryptic guidebook in our midst: a manual that's brilliant -- or at least, the parts of it we can understand. Will Lockhart, a physics grad student and avid Go player who codirected The Surrounding Game (a documentary about the pastime's history and devotees) tried to describe the difference between watching AlphaGo's games against top human players, on the one hand, and its self-paired games, on the other. According to Will, AlphaGo's moves against Ke Jie made it seem to be "inevitably marching toward victory," while Ke seemed to be "punching a brick wall." Any time the Chinese player had perhaps found a way forward, said Lockhart, "10 moves later AlphaGo had resolved it in such a simple way, and it was like, 'Poof, well that didn't lead anywhere!'" By contrast, AlphaGo's self-paired games might have seemed more frenetic. More complex. Lockhart compares them to "people sword-fighting on a tightrope."
Businesses

First Floating Wind Farm Delivers Electricity (arstechnica.com) 81

The world's first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid today. "The 30MW installation, situated 25km (15.5mi) from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, will demonstrate that offshore wind energy can be harvested in deep waters, miles away from land, where installing giant turbines was once impractical or impossible," reports Ars Technica. "At peak capacity, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes." From the report: The installation, called Hywind Scotland, is also interesting because it was built by Statoil, a Norwegian mega-corporation known for offshore oil drilling. Statoil has pursued offshore wind projects in recent years, using the companyâ(TM)s experience building and managing infrastructure in difficult open sea conditions to its advantage. Hywind Scotland began producing power in September, and today it starts delivering electricity to the Scottish grid. Now, all that's left is for Statoil and its partner company Masdar to install a 1MWh lithium-ion battery, charmingly called âoeBatwind,â on shore. Batwind will help the offshore system regulate power delivery and optimize output. After a number of small demonstration projects, the five 6MW turbines are the first commercial turbines to lack a firm attachment to the seafloor. They're held in place using three giant suction anchors, which are commonly used in offshore oil drilling. Essentially, an enormous, empty, upside-down âoebucketâ is placed on the seafloor, and air is sucked out of the bucket, which forces the bucket downward, further into the seafloor sediment. The report mentions a 2013 video that shows how offshore wind farms work.
Android

ZTE Launches Axon M, a Foldable, Dual-Screened Smartphone (theverge.com) 61

ZTE's new Axon M is a full-featured smartphone with a hinge that connects two full-size displays, making the Axon M a flip phone of sorts. "Its front screen is a 5.2-inch, 1080p panel, it has last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20-megapixel camera," reports The Verge. "But flip the phone over and there's an identical 5.2-inch display on the back, making the Axon M anything but run-of-the-mill." From the report: The M's hinge allows the rear screen to flip forward and slot right next to the main display, creating an almost tablet sized canvas. You can stretch the home screen and apps across the two displays for a larger working area, or you can run two different apps at the same time, one on each screen. You can also "tent" the phone, and mirror the displays so two people can see the same content at the same time. ZTE says that it is utilizing Android's default split-screen features to enable many of the dual-screen functions, and it has made sure the "top 100" Android apps work on the phone. In the "extended" mode, which stretches a single app across both screens, the tablet version of the app is presented (provided there is one, which isn't always a guarantee with Android apps). It's even possible to stream video on both screens at the same time and switch the audio between them on the fly, which might be useful if you want to watch a sports game and YouTube at the same time, I guess.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's Fall Update With Redesigned Xbox Dashboard Is Now Available To All (engadget.com) 38

Microsoft has released the next big "Fall" update for the Xbox One, which focuses on speed and simplicity. Engadget reports: The first "Fluid Design" interface comes with a redesigned Home page, which is all about simplicity and customization. The top-level section has four shortcuts (your current game, two personalized suggestions, and a deal from the Microsoft store) and a horizontal carousel underneath. The biggest change, however, is the new "Content Blocks" that sit below this screen. Scroll down and you'll find a series of large, visual panels dedicated to games and friends. These are completely customizable and act like miniature hubs for your favorite titles and communities. The quick-access Guide has been tweaked for speed, with small, horizontal tabs that you can slide between with the Xbox controller's LB and RB bumpers, D-pad or left thumbstick. If you launch the Guide while you're streaming or part of an active party, you'll also see the corresponding broadcast and party tabs by default. Other Guide tweaks include a new Tournaments section in the Multiplayer tab, which will summarize any official, professional or community tournaments that you've entered. In addition, Microsoft has overhauled the Community tab with a modern, grid-based layout. It's also tweaked the idle and screen dimming features that kick in when you walk away from the console momentarily. Larry Hryb, Xbox Live's Major Nelson and Mike Ybarra, the Platform Engineer, have posted a walkthrough video on YouTube highlighting all the major new changes.
Transportation

Unpatched Exploit Lets You Clone Key Fobs and Open Subaru Cars (bleepingcomputer.com) 60

An anonymous reader writes: Tom Wimmenhove, a Dutch electronics designer, has discovered a flaw in the key fob system used by several Subaru models, a vulnerability the vendor has not patched and could be abused to hijack cars. The issue is that key fobs for some Subaru cars use sequential codes for locking and unlocking the vehicle, and other operations. These codes -- called rolling codes or hopping code -- should be random, in order to avoid situations when an attacker discovers their sequence and uses the flaw to hijack cars. This is exactly what Wimmenhove did. He created a device that sniffs the code, computes the next rolling code and uses it to unlock cars...

The researcher said he reached out to Subaru about his findings. "I did [reach out]. I told them about the vulnerability and shared my code with them," Wimmenhove told BleepingComputer. "They referred me to their 'partnership' page and asked me to fill in a questionnaire. It didn't seem like they really cared and I haven't heard back from them."

His Subaru-cracking feat -- documented in a video -- was accomplished using a $25 Raspberry Pi B+ and two dongles, one for wifi ($2) and one for a TV ($8), plus a $1 antenna and a $1 MCX-to-SMA convertor.
Music

SUSE Shares Linux-Themed Music Video Parodies (itwire.com) 28

Long-time Slashdot reader troublemaker_23 quotes ITWire: German Linux company SUSE Linux is well-known for its Linux and other open source solutions. It is also known for producing videos for geeks and debuting them at its annual SUSECon conference. This year, in Prague, was no different. The company, which marked its 25th year on 2 September, came up with two videos, one to mark the occasion and the other all about Linux and open source. Both videos are parodies of well-known songs: the video Linus Said is based on "Momma Said", while 25 Years is a parody of "7 Years". Some of the lyrics in both SUSE videos would be meaningless to the average person -- but every word will ring a bell, sometimes a very poignant one, with geeks. And that's the primary audience it targets.
The article embeds both videos -- and also links to the music videos they're parodying. And it includes links to SUSE's two previous annual music video parodies -- Uptime Funk (based on Bruno Mars' blockbuster hit "Uptown Funk"), and Can't Stop the SUSE, a parody of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling".
Microsoft

Microsoft Employees Can Now Work In Treehouses (cnbc.com) 95

Microsoft's campus now features three outdoor treehouses for its employees. An anonymous reader quotes CNBC: More than 12 feet off the ground, the treehouses feature charred-wood walls, skylights, at least one gas fireplace, Wi-Fi and hidden electrical outlets. Employees can even grab a bite at an outdoor extension of the indoor cafeteria. The "more Hobbit than HQ" treehouses are designed by Pete Nelson of the TV show "Treehouse Masters" and are part of Microsoft's growing "outdoor districts..." The company touts the professional benefits of working in nature -- greater creativity, focus and happiness -- but honestly, the treehouses are just plain cool.
Microsoft touts a Harvard physician who believes nature "stimulates reward neurons in your brain. It turns off the stress response, which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improved immune response." There's a short video on the "Working at Microsoft" channel on YouTube, but I'm curious what Slashdot readers think about working outdoors. Or, in a tree...
Communications

Russia Reportedly Used Pokemon Go In an Effort To Inflame Racial Tensions (theverge.com) 211

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Russia's far-ranging campaign to promote dissension in the United States reportedly included an effort to weaponize Pokemon Go. CNN reported that in July 2016, a Tumblr page linked to Russia's now-notorious Internet Research Agency promoted a contest encouraging people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement to play the game near famous sites of police brutality. Players were told to change their characters' names to the victims of those incidents -- an apparent effort to inflame racial tensions. The Tumblr page was linked to Do Not Shoot Us, a multi-platform campaign designed to mimic aspects of Black Lives Matter. (As CNN notes, the name plays on "hands up, don't shoot," one of the movement's slogans.) Do Not Shoot Us included a website, donotshoot.us, along with related pages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The Facebook page was one of 470 pages that were removed after the company determined that it was linked to Russian groups attempting to interfere in US politics.
Communications

Recordings of the Sounds Heard In the Cuban US Embassy Attacks Released (apnews.com) 299

New submitter chrissfoot shares a report from The Associated Press: The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recording, released Thursday by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon. The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer. What device produced the original sound remains unknown. Americans affected in Havana reported the sounds hit them at extreme volumes. You can listen to the "Dangerous Sound" here via YouTube.
Data Storage

Researcher Turns HDD Into Rudimentary Microphone (bleepingcomputer.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes from Bleeping Computer: Speaking at a security conference, researcher Alfredo Ortega has revealed that you can use your hard disk drive (HDD) as a rudimentary microphone to pick up nearby sounds. This is possible because of how hard drives are designed to work. Sounds or nearby vibrations are nothing more than mechanical waves that cause HDD platters to vibrate. By design, a hard drive cannot read or write information to an HDD platter that moves under vibrations, so the hard drive must wait for the oscillation to stop before carrying out any actions. Because modern operating systems come with utilities that measure HDD operations up to nanosecond accuracy, Ortega realized that he could use these tools to measure delays in HDD operations. The longer the delay, the louder the sound or the intense the vibration that causes it. These read-write delays allowed the researcher to reconstruct sound or vibration waves picked up by the HDD platters. A video demo is here.

"It's not accurate yet to pick up conversations," Ortega told Bleeping Computer in a private conversation. "However, there is research that can recover voice data from very low-quality signals using pattern recognition. I didn't have time to replicate the pattern-recognition portion of that research into mine. However, it's certainly applicable." Furthermore, the researcher also used sound to attack hard drives. Ortega played a 130Hz tone to make an HDD stop responding to commands. "The Linux kernel disconnected it entirely after 120 seconds," he said. There's a video of this demo on YouTube.

Science

Octopuses Show Scientists How To Hide Machines in Plain Sight (axios.com) 63

If you want to learn the art of camouflage look no further than octopuses. Just watch this famous video that shows a diver slowly swimming up to a clump of rock and seaweed, only for part of that clump to turn white, open its eye, and jet away, squirting ink behind it. Materials scientists and engineers have fallen under the octopuses' spell. From a report: Scientists have engineered a material that can transform from a 2D sheet to a 3D shape, adjusting its texture to blend in with its surroundings, per a new study published today in Science. They mimicked the abilities of an octopus, which can change both shape and color to camouflage. This is a first step toward developing soft robots that can hide in plain sight, robotics expert Cecilia Laschi writes of the research. Robots that can camouflage may one day be used in natural environments to study animals more closely than ever before or in military operations to avoid detection, she writes.
Businesses

The Real Inside Story of How Commodore Failed (youtube.com) 259

dryriver writes: Everybody who was into computers in the 1980s and 1990s remembers Commodore producing amazingly innovative, capable and popular multimedia and gaming computers one moment, and disappearing off the face of the earth the next, leaving only PCs and Macs standing. Much has been written about what went wrong with Commodore over the years, but always by outsiders looking in -- journalists, tech writers, not people who were on the inside. In a 34 minute long Youtube interview that surfaced on October 9th, former Commodore UK Managing Director David John Pleasance and Trevor Dickinson of A-EON Technology talk very frankly about how Commodore really failed, and just how crazy bad and preventable the business and tech decisions that killed Commodore were, from firing all Amiga engineers for no discernible reason, to hiring 40 IBM engineers who didn't understand multimedia computing, to not licensing the then-valuable Commodore Business Machines (CBM) brand to PC makers to generate an extra revenue stream, to one new manager suddenly deciding to manufacture in the Philippines -- a place where the man had a lady mistress apparently. The interview is a truly eye-opening preview of an upcoming book David John Pleasance is writing called Commodore: The Inside Story . The book will, for the first time, chronicle the fall of Commodore from the insider perspective of an actual Commodore Managing Director.
Google

Google Paid $7.2 Billion Last Year To Partners, Including Apple, To Prominently Showcase Its Search Engine and Apps on Smartphones (bloomberg.com) 57

A reader shares a Bloomberg report: There's a $19 billion black box inside Google. That's the yearly amount Google pays to companies that help generate its advertising sales, from the websites lined with Google-served ads to Apple and others that plant Google's search box or apps in prominent spots. Investors are obsessed with this money, called traffic acquisition costs, and they're particularly worried about the growing slice of those payments going to Apple and Google's Android allies. That chunk of fees now amounts to 11 percent of revenue for Google's internet properties. The figure was 7 percent in 2012. These Google traffic fees are the result of contractual arrangements parent company Alphabet makes to ensure its dominance. The company pays Apple to make Google the built-in option for web searches on Apple's Safari browsers for Mac computers, iPhones and other places. Google also pays companies that make Android smartphones and the phone companies that sell those phones to make sure its search box is front and center and to ensure its apps such as YouTube and Chrome are included in smartphones. In the last year, Google has paid these partners $7.2 billion, more than three times the comparable cost in 2012.
Advertising

Google Uncovers Russia-Bought Ads On YouTube, Gmail and Other Platforms (reuters.com) 345

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Google has discovered Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company's probe told Reuters on Monday. The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook, but may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort, according to the source, who was not authorized to discuss details of Google's confidential investigation. The revelation is likely to fuel further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year's election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow's goal was to help elect Donald Trump. Google has uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said.
It's funny.  Laugh.

Parody 'Subgenius' Religion Wants to Crowdfund An Alien-Contacting Beacon (gofundme.com) 78

In 1979 the followers of J. R. "Bob" Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. (Slackware Linux reportedly drew its name from the "pursuit of Slack", a comfort-seeking tenet of the 38-year-old parody religion.) Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few H.P. Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page -- and a slick new video channel.

In "Adventures in the Forbidden Sciences," former church CEO K'taden Legume announces that in January of 2016, "the Subgenius Foundation received an overdue bill for a storage locker in the Pacific Northwest registered under the name J. R. Dobbs. Behind the steel door was a freight elevator leading deep underground to what was long considered to be a myth: The church's long-abandoned forbidden science laboratories. Hidden in a forgotten cavern, packed floor-to-ceiling with thousands of crates dating back to the mid-19th century." Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on "the Black Day" -- and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. Legume calls it "our best last hope for getting off of this planet. We have the tech. We have the moxie to do this, but to finish the beacon -- we need your help."

"The Beacon will be constructed by a team of 'Forbidden Scientists' led by former church CEO Dr. K'taden Legume," writes new Slashdot reader Ktaden Legume, touting a new $25,000 campaign to crowdfund the beacon's construction.

So far it's raised $294.
Youtube

YouTube Alters Algorithm To Promote News, Penalize Vegas Shooting Conspiracy Theories (usatoday.com) 372

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: YouTube has changed its powerful search algorithm to promote videos from more mainstream news outlets in search results after people looking for details on the Las Vegas shooting were served up conspiracy theories and misinformation. YouTube confirmed the changes Thursday... In the days after the mass shooting, videos abounded on YouTube, some questioning whether the shooting occurred and others claiming law enforcement officials had deceived the public about what really happened...

Public outcry over YouTube videos promoting conspiracy theories is just the latest online flap for the major U.S. Internet companies. Within hours of the attack, Facebook and Google were called out for promoting conspiracy theories... Helping drive YouTube's popularity is the "Up next" column which suggests additional videos to viewers. The Wall Street Journal found incidents this week in which YouTube suggested videos promoting conspiracy theories next to videos from mainstream news sources. YouTube acknowledged issues with the "Up next" algorithm and said it was looking to promote more authoritative results there, too.

At least one video was viewed over a million times, and Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes that "I've received emails from Google users who report YouTube pushing links to some of those trending fake videos directly to their phones as notifications." He's suggesting that from now on, YouTube's top trending videos should be reviewed by actual humans.
Moon

Vice President Pence Vows US Astronauts Will Return To the Moon (engadget.com) 226

Before astronauts go to Mars, they will return to the Moon, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday and in a speech at the National Air and Space Museum today. He touts "humans exploration and discovery" as the new focus of America's space program. This "means establishing a renewed American presence on the moon, a vital strategic goal. And from the foundation of the moon, America will be the first nation to bring mankind to Mars." Engadget reports: There have been two prevailing (and opposing) views when it comes to U.S. endeavors in human spaceflight. One camp maintains that returning to the moon is a mistake. NASA has already been there; it should work hard and set our sights on Mars and beyond. The other feels that Mars is too much of a reach, and that the moon will be easier to achieve in a short time frame. Mars may be a medium-to-long-term goal, but NASA should use the moon as a jumping-off point. It's not surprising that the Trump administration is valuing short-term gains over a longer, more ambitious project. The U.S. will get to Mars eventually, according to Pence, but the moon is where the current focus lies.
Google

Google Pixel Buds Are Wireless Earbuds That Translate Conversations In Real Time (arstechnica.com) 163

At its hardware event today, Google debuted new wireless earbuds, dubbed "Pixel Buds." These are Google's first wireless earbuds that give users access to Google Translate so they can have conversations with people who speak a different language. Ars Technica reports: Unlike Apple's AirPods, the Pixel Buds have a wire connecting the two earpieces. However, that wire doesn't connect to a smartphone or other device. Pixel Buds will pair via Bluetooth to the new Pixel smartphones -- and presumably any other devices that accept Bluetooth wireless earbuds. All of the Pixel Buds' controls are built in to the right earpiece, which is a common hardware solution on wireless earbuds. You can access Google Assistant by tapping or pressing on the right earbud, and the Assistant will be able to read notifications and messages to you through the Buds.

But the most intriguing feature of the Pixel Buds is the integrated Google Translate feature. Demoed on stage at Google's event today, this feature lets two Pixel Bud wearers chat in their native languages by translating conversations in real time. In the demo, a native English speaker and a native Swedish speaker had a conversation with each other, both using their native languages. Google Translate translated the languages for each user. There was barely any lag time in between the speaker saying a phrase and the Buds' hearing those words and translating them into the appropriate language. The Pixel Buds will use Google Translate to comprehend conversations in 40 different languages.
Some other features include a 5-hour battery life, and a charging case that can hold up to 24 hours of battery life. They're available for preorder today for $159.
Google

Why Google Needs Gadgets (wired.com) 37

Google will tomorrow launch the next generation of its smartphone with the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL. At the same time, the company will reportedly introduce a new Chrome OS-based laptop called the Pixelbook, a small smart speaker called the Google Home Mini, and new hardware for the Daydream VR platform. David Pierce, writing for Wired tries to make sense of it: You'd think having dominated search and email, created Chrome and YouTube, plus a self-driving car project, a handful of save-the-world enterprises, and the greatest advertising business in the history of the universe would be enough to keep Google busy. You certainly wouldn't think the folks in Mountain View would suddenly feel the urge to get into the smartphone game, a remarkably mature market where nobody but Samsung and Apple makes any money, and where Google's already ubiquitous thanks to Android. [...] As they say, hardware is hard. It's a ruthless and low-margin business, but it's also an important one. Building gadgets in-house gives Google an opportunity to assert itself beyond what any of its partners can offer. More importantly, it gives Google a chance to control its destiny in an increasingly uncertain time. Depending on Samsung is a dangerous game. Galaxy products are the most popular Android phones by far, and the prime iPhone competition. But every year, you can feel Samsung leaning a little further away from Google. It built the Bixby assistant, which competes directly with Google Assistant, and gave Bixby prime placement on its phones. Samsung builds its own browser, email client, and messaging app, which seem utterly redundant unless Samsung's trying to wean its reliance on Google products. Samsung mostly eschews Daydream in favor of Gear VR, and has a home-grown smart-home platform competing directly with Nest, Android Things, and all the other Google connected-home products.
Google

Google and Facebook Failed Us (theatlantic.com) 320

The world's most powerful information gatekeepers neglected their duties in Las Vegas. Again. From a report: In the crucial early hours after the Las Vegas mass shooting, it happened again: Hoaxes, completely unverified rumors, failed witch hunts, and blatant falsehoods spread across the internet. But they did not do so by themselves: They used the infrastructure that Google and Facebook and YouTube have built to achieve wide distribution. These companies are the most powerful information gatekeepers that the world has ever known, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for their active role in damaging the quality of information reaching the public. BuzzFeed's Ryan Broderick found that Google's "top stories" results surfaced 4chan forum posts about a man that right-wing amateur sleuths had incorrectly identified as the Las Vegas shooter. 4chan is a known source not just of racism, but hoaxes and deliberate misinformation. In any list a human might make of sites to exclude from being labeled as "news," 4chan would be near the very top. [...] Of course, it is not just Google. On Facebook, a simple search for "Las Vegas" yields a Group called "Las Vegas Shooting /Massacre," which sprung up after the shooting and already has more than 5,000 members. The group is run by Jonathan Lee Riches, who gained notoriety by filing 3,000 frivolous lawsuits while serving a 10 year prison sentence after being convicted for stealing money by impersonating people whose bank credentials had been phished. Now, he calls himself an "investigative journalist" with Infowars, though there is no indication he's been published on the site, and given that he also lists himself as a former male underwear model at Victoria's Secret, a former nuclear scientist at Chernobyl, and a former bodyguard at Buckingham Palace, his work history may not be reliable. The problems with surfacing this man's group to Facebook users is obvious to literally any human. But to Facebook's algorithms, it's just a fast-growing group with an engaged community.

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